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Why it's time to consider iSCSI technology

Not surprisingly, Ahmad Zamer, iSCSI subgroup chairman for the SNIA IP Storage Forum, feels that iSCSI is the future. But what about the security concerns of iSCSI? Zamer feels iSCSI offers a higher level of reliability and interoperability than its Fibre Channel counterpart. But when will iSCSI come down to earth and actually be a viable option for storage departments to implement? When can we expect iSCSI to be a mainstream technology? And what does it mean that major players such as IBM and Cisco are pulling back from iSCSI a bit? Zamer tackles these questions in this SearchStorage Q&A.

When can users expect to realize the full potential of iSCSI? How many years off are we from widespread implementation?
It's hard to speculate on future development. One can point to the general consensus among industry analysts and organizations active in the IP storage space for answers. It's expected that wide and rapid adoption of iSCSI and IP storage will take place towards the latter half of 2003 and in 2004. First off, why should users consider iSCSI technology?
The main advantage of iSCSI is that it enables the convergence of storage and networking. With iSCSI, Ethernet can transport network (messaging) data and storage (I/O Block) data over the same wire. The ability to move messaging and I/O block data together simplifies SAN configurations and enhances their functionality. For example, users can create redundant connections using only two Ethernet ports that can transport messaging and block data. To create a similar capability with today's technology, a user must connect four ports (two Fibre Channel and two GbE) to realize the same redundancy. In addition to that, iSCSI allows ports transporting networking and storage data to failover to each other. In other words, Ethernet traffic (messaging and I/O blocks) can failover and be load-balanced, while storage traffic on FC cannot failover to Ethernet ports. The improved ability to failover various types of data traffic and load balancing enhances the availability of storage to a level that is not conceivable with today's technologies. The strength of iSCSI stems from the fact that it builds on well-established technologies: SCSI, TCP/IP and Ethernet. As a result, the challenges that users will face when adopting iSCSI technology are expected to be minimal. What are the security concerns users need to consider with iSCSI?
The much debated security concerns are network-related and are not iSCSI-specific. The iSCSI draft standard addresses the security concerns of users and requires that IPSec protocol be supported in tunneling mode. Users should look at their own security requirements before getting too concerned about security. If the iSCSI portion of the network is installed on a trusted segment of the enterprise network, then users need not worry about security beyond what their network provides. In the event that the iSCSI segment of the network is accessible across un-trusted segments, then users should consider utilizing security gateways or firewalls that ensure the security of the iSCSI portion in a way that is consistent with the user's security needs. Users considering security solutions should ensure that the solutions they use can deliver security while preserving the performance of the network.

About Ahmad Zamer:

Ahmad Zamer is a senior product line marketing engineer at the LAN Access Division of Intel Corp. He joined Intel in 2000 and has responsibility for network storage and iSCSI products. Zamer has more than 17 years of computer industry experience as a product and business development manager. He is the chairman of the iSCSI subgroup of SNIA.

For more information on iSCSI:

iSCSI may be hot, but switch makers bank on Fibre Channel

Comparing and contrasting iSCSI and NAS

iSCSI vs. FC? Which is going to make it? Analysts have said that iSCSI technology is the technology of the future, but that larger vendors such as Cisco, Intel, EMC and HDS are not pushing it heavily. Do you think this is due to low user-adoption rates or other factors?
The momentum that the storage and networking industry leaders have shown so far in support of iSCSI is unprecedented. That support [has] exemplified itself in strong participation from industry leaders [such as] SNIA, IETF, the iSCSI Consortium. Recent iSCSI product releases from these companies are clear indications of their commitment to enhancing the customer's experience using IP Storage and iSCSI. How easy or difficult is it to implement an iSCSI dedicated network if you do not have one already? What kind of investment in hardware will it take?
It is very easy to set up an iSCSI SAN since all you need is to connect your iSCSI devices to the network. Since iSCSI uses Ethernet, IT staffs already know how to plug that familiar Ethernet cable. It is important to note that iSCSI has one type of port as opposed to the many types found in many storage technologies. In the unlikely event that a user does not have an Ethernet-based network, then getting one up and running would take significantly less time than attempting to create a SAN using an alternative technology. In general, the duration of time will depend on the user's experience with networks. IBM recently announced that it halted the sale of its TotalStorage IP Storage 200i. Is this a case of the product not doing well, or of the iSCSI technology not performing?
IBM is the best party to comment on this subject. In general, vendors are always evaluating their product and technology road maps and will revise them from time to time. Since iSCSI is a technology with potential, it will find its way into iSCSI product lines as well as "iSCSI-capable" products that will be enhanced with iSCSI features. iSCSI products are expected to continue to improve their performance and address any shortcomings.

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